Frame prices explained: Why is picture framing so expensive?

There's a feeling that getting your picture framed is expensive, with stories of people spending many times the cost of the artwork on a frame. But what's really the case, do you need to pay so much - and how can you save money when framing your artwork, photos and other precious memorabilia?

Picture framing has not always been for the masses. For centuries the wealthy were the only market for picture frames as to frame a picture, your first have to own one, and paintings were expensive to acquire. It wasn’t until the invention of photography in the 19th century that all members of society had something to frame, a family photo now available from photographers in a matter of minutes compared to the hours it might take a painter.

Fast forward to the mid to late twentieth century, where we see picture framing become a feature of every home’s interior. The proliferation of photography has seen generations keen to preserve their treasured family photos, memorable occasions or just pictures of their pets. Whatever the subject may be, a frame has always been the go-to method for picture preservation and presentation and has seen a boom in the last decade thanks to phone cameras and affordable prints available online.

This exciting new market, driven mainly by the lucrative millennial generation, has turned forward-thinking framers to e-commerce – an avenue that many younger buyers prefer compared to the traditional high street. Online framers with a centralised production model can manufacturer individual frames (made to unique specifications) for a cost far lower than a high street framer can – this is, in part, due to more significant economies of scale. In addition, an online framer can usually provide a more comprehensive selection of materials and designs.

Why are picture framing prices so high?

While millennials are benefiting from services like Etsy providing affordable artwork, there is a feeling that having your artwork framed is still very expensive, with stories of people spending many times the cost of the artwork on a frame.

The cost of framing a picture is based on many different variables. When looking at frames for your artwork, bear in mind that every detail of that frame will affect the price. The moulding used, the finish of the moulding, the type of glazing, whether the frame has a mount (or mat) or not, the size of the frame, picture printing and fitting and postage will all have a significant impact on the final price of the overall frame, not to mention the cost of labour. The cost of all these elements will reduce as the scale of manufacturing increases, but sometimes the quality will reduce too.

Although we believe that framing is a lot more affordable than people realise, it’s also worth noting that ‘expensive’ will have different meanings for different people, and it really comes down to how much you value presenting and protecting your artwork. Different price points offer a variety of different advantages and disadvantages that you will want to take into account when purchasing a frame to preserve your piece.

The cost of framing a picture is based on many different variables. When looking at frames for your artwork, bear in mind that every detail of that frame will affect the price.

Why are prices rising?

There may be factors unrelated to the framing industry that will inevitably have an impact on the cost of picture frames. The pandemic has disrupted many businesses over the last year and has seen an increase in pricing for raw materials in 2021, thanks to a combination of supply issues and a high demand as businesses get back to work. Circumstances like this are hard to predict, especially as a consumer, however it’s worth taking into account when looking at prices as it may well have an influence.

What impacts the cost of a frame?

Optional extras (like premium wall fixings or stands), material choices and more can affect the end price of your frame. Knowing what these factors are and how they affect the price are useful to note when shopping around or configuring a frame. As important is the value of your picture – different price points will change how well your artwork is protected. We wouldn’t recommend framing an open edition or ‘throwaway’ print in the same way as a limited edition or original print for example.

Size

All things being equal – the larger the frame the more expensive it will be. This is mainly down to the amount of the material required to produce the item. More meters of moulding are used to complete the perimeter of the frame, and the amount of glazing and backing board needed increases too. The size of the frame may also impact the delivery costs, although most retailers will have a fixed price below a given size.

Materials

The materials used to make your frame should be chosen carefully depending on what you plan on putting in your frame. It’s worth noting that the more expensive materials will usually provide your artwork with better protection, not just in terms of the physical strength of the frame etc. but will be specially made to avoid any chemicals in the materials from affecting the print and causing discolouring. A cheap print may be fine in a budget ready-made frame, whereas an original artwork will need to be kept in an expensive frame to avoid any damage over the years.

Your selection of materials have a big impact on the final price, this includes the moulding, the glazing and the backing board. Typically the backing board will be a sheet of MDF, so won’t impact the price. The glazing will most likely be a choice of acrylic or glass, with a variety of different finishes available such as UV protection, anti-glare etc. Mouldings have a large variety of prices, for example, a narrow painted frame will always be cheaper than a wide gold leaf ornate frame.

The cheapest frames will be made from MDF or plastic and will be the least durable, as well as vulnerable to the effects of the elements. The most premium options are real wood and aluminum – both come in literally hundreds of designs and finishes and tend to be a lot more durableand stylish than their cheaper MDF and plastic counterparts.

Picture Mounts

Adding a mount will increase the cost of your frame since it’s an extra step in the manufacturing process and uses more materials. You may find that a plain white mount will be the cheapest option, and the price will increase depending on if you’ve selected a unique board type, and whether the mount is a v-groove or double mount.

Picture Printing

Having a picture included with your frame will increase the price, and will vary depending on the size of the print and the media (paper) it’s printed on. Combining a print with your frame will increase the price, however you may actually save money compared to buying a frame and paying for a separate print from a different company, so if you haven’t already got a physical copy of what you want to frame it’s worth looking for retailers who provide a picture printing and fitting service alongside their frames – like our own upload your picture frame frame it service.

Shipping & Packaging

Transporting frames will have an impact on price, not just in terms of the distance travelled but also the packaging methods involved to keep the frame safe and the priority level of the courier. Some retailers may charge more to cover the cost of more expensive protective packaging.

Labour

The more complicated or unique an order is, the more time has to be spent making it. Ready-made frames are normally produced in the Far-East at such a scale that the labour costs are very low for each frame. On the other hand, custom frames from a UK based online manufacturer (like us) or high street store is most likely put together by hand, which means the labour costs will be greater. Generally speaking, the more time spent making a frame, the more attention and care has been spent to get the quality just right. We also think it’s essential that framers receive a decent wage for their work and craftsmanship.

Where to buy frames?

There are a variety of different types of frames available, each made by different kinds of businesses. To make it easier to understand picture frame pricing and why the price of frames seem to vary it’s worth knowing who might be making the frames you’re looking at and where it’s being sold. Knowing this will make it easier for you to determine if that frame is good value and worth the financial outlay.

Big brand high street stores

You’ll quite often find the cheapest frames in supermarkets or department stores like B&Q and Tesco. These companies operate at the highest economy of scale and typically offer the lowest quality due to cheap materials and a lack of attention to detail. Typically the products provided by these shops will not give your artwork much genuine protection, however there are some exceptions, mass-produced frames by companies like Nielsen offer great value considering the quality on offer. If you’re interested to learn more, we have a Nielsen frame buying guide

Online framers

This is where we fit in, online framing retailers like us have a vast amounts of raw (uncut) stock to choose from – meaning we make each frame from scratch as and when an order is placed (rather than in mass-produced batches). This is made possible by having large premises with space for stock, advanced semi-automatic equipment and highly trained machine operators. Online framers tend to buy from the same material suppliers as high street framers, but due to the centralised nature of manufacturing can produce the finished goods at a much more competitive price point.

Typically online businesses like this will offer made to order frames in standard sizes, as well as custom dimensions for uniquely sized artwork, as each frame needs to be cut on a saw and pinned at the start of production, regardless of the sizing. This means companies are at liberty to offer a huge selection of sizing and mouldings, the only downside is that leadtimes may be slightly longer when compared to an off-the-shelf product. Online framers are also flexible in the type of customers they serve, with the ability to make cater for customers and orders of all natures – from individual frames for personal wedding pictures to hotel refurbishment projects requiring hundreds of frames.

Small independent framers

The kind of business you might find in a small town high street, frame shops like these have been the go-to business for many to have their prized artwork framed. These framers are also the source of some of the most eye-watering quotes, and you can easily spend hundreds on a single frame. In fact, high street custom frame shops are probably the reason that framing has a reputation for being expensive – when it doesn’t have to be. They tend to operate from smaller spaces that serve a dual purpose – to both manufacture and display products in a store front. These businesses do have their benefits though – they can provide one-to-one expertise and advice, albeit for a premium.

The more stock these companies offer, the more expensive their frames are likely to be, and typically they will rely on one-off jobs rather than selling large quantities, which makes them ideal for framing valuable artworks that need to be preserved, but too pricey for online posters or holiday photos. By favouring one-off jobs, these companies specialise in bespoke framing of irregularly sized artwork and represent the most expensive choice for consumers.

What are the different types of frames?

Picture frames fit into two main types, ready-made frames and made to order frames (in both standard and bespoke sizes). Ready-made frames are produced by ready-made factories, are the cheapest option and the lowest quality. Made to order and made to measure frames are produced by both online framers and independent high street framers, however you will normally find online framers offer a more limited array of made to order options and independent framers that serve up a true bespoke framing service (think war medals and boxing gloves).

Ready-made frames

If you’ve looked for cheap picture frames, chances are you’ve come across ready-made options. These frames are mass-produced and sold through retailers like John Lewis or Ikea, and are available in a fairly limited variety of standard sizes. The cheapest of these ready-made frames are made from the lowest cost materials, mainly MDF or plastic.

The manufacturers of these frames can afford to sell their frames at such low prices as their production model allows them to, meaning they can buy their materials in bulk for the cheapest price and manufacture them as efficiently as possible before shipping to retailers. These frames do reflect their price in the quality you receive, as the manufacturer will not be paying close attention to details on each frame. These frames will not provide much (if any) artwork protection and are the most likely to break, particularly plastic frames which shatter irreparably.

Certain manufacturers produce ready-mades as their main product line, such as Nielsen, a framing company in Germany. These frames are produced to a higher standard than the cheapest mass-produced frames, which is reflected in their higher price. No matter the build quality, there are always restrictions for the customer as ready-made frames are only produced in a limited number of different sizes and styles.

Made to order frames

As the name suggests, made to order frames are produced based on an order from a customer, rather than manufactured in bulk and then sold individually. Making a frame when an order is placed is known as just in time manufacturing, a production method that reduces the time delay between the customer and the supplier, and increases the flexibility of the manufacturer. Made to order frames are sized according to the clients needs, whether that’s a standard size (e.g. A3, 6×4” etc.) or a unique custom size – both of which can be produced with the same ease.

The advantage of using this system is a client has a wide range of mouldings to choose from, and won’t have to compromise on the size of their frame. Made to measure frames are the most expensive option, and are usually only needed for artworks with unique dimensions. This flexibility of materials and sizes is not possible with mass production facilities, and a regular high street framer will not have the capacity to stock a larger variety of mouldings.

Comparing the cost

Now that you know the different types of framing companies and the business models they employ, it’s time to look at how prices vary between different retailers. If you’re looking for a standard-sized artwork, the two options you’re faced with are to go for a readymade frame or to purchase a made to measure frame from an online retailer. We’ve taken the time to look into the pricing of 10 of the UK’s leading framing companies to give you an average cost of ready-made frames, standard-sized made to order frames and custom sized frames. For all the price comparisons we’ve deliberately aimed to choose the same size and design wherever possible (A2, black painted frame with a ~20mm wide profile).

Standard size (A-sizes etc.)

The average cost of a readymade A2 frame is £29.74, including VAT and shipping with an average shipping cost of £6.48. This does not include some of the frames available from retailers like Ikea, since those frames can be as little as £8 with very dubious quality and will most likely break or deteriorate before their desired end of life.

A made to order A2 frame of a similar design is available from online retailers at an average cost of £53.10 including VAT and shipping (average shipping cost is £7.86). Included in this cost is also the ability to choose whatever design may suit your interior, rather than finding a frame that is the closest fit available.

Custom sized frames/bespoke sizes

When looking for a frame that will fit a uniquely sized artwork, readymades are not an option as they are designed for standard sizes to make them as widely appealing as possible. When we looked at the average cost of a custom-sized frame the benefit of purchasing frames from online retailers became clear, as there was very little price difference between a custom frame and a standard sized frame of a similar size.

We decided to find the average cost of a frame sized 64x36cm, a fairly similar size to an A2 frame but in a 16:9 aspect ratio (great for phone photos). The average cost was £51.36 including VAT and shipping (which cost an average of £7.86). Even though you may expect the price to be less since the perimeter of the frame (i.e. the amount of moulding required) by 2.8cm, it’s a significant example of how you can save money compared to high street framers. This is thanks to the flexible production model online framers follow, which creates savings that are passed on to the consumer.

Is it worth framing your pictures?

Clearly, the personal value of a frame will be different for everyone, but we thought we’d point out some of the aspects of picture framing that people don’t consider. Often a picture frame is seen as the vessel for a picture, purely there to hold the picture in place, however, it is a powerful interior design feature and the frame alone can have a big impact on how people perceive your home. If you’ve ever walked into a friends house in awe of how all their decorations are consistent and put together, you know the impact a well-designed interior can have – and a picture frame is a cost-effective way to create that appeal.

When you compare other ways to breathe some artistic flair into your home, picture frames become more and more of an attractive proposition. A new floor can easily cost upwards of £800 for the average living room and hiring a painter to repaint a room will most likely cost you upwards of £500. For these prices, you have more than enough for a collection of frames, artworks and still have money left over, so it’s worth considering giving frames a chance if you’re keen to spruce up your home or office.

Money-saving tips

Although picture framing can indeed be a costly endeavor, we hope we’ve demonstrated how it’s a lot more affordable than many think. Below are some handy tips to keep costs down if you’ve decided you want a picture frame that will protect your artwork, but you’re still finding the cost off-putting.

Buy in bulk if you can – Many retailers will offer a bulk discount which will make each frame significantly cheaper, so it might be worth having a think about what frames you might want and buy them all together or perhaps even think about picking up a few extras for gifts in the future.

Compare prices from different retailers – There are a variety of retailers online providing similar services and some are more expensive than others. Bear in mind that generally speaking, you will get what you pay for.

Get the image printed and framed at the same time (rather than printed somewhere else) – Unless you already have your print or photo, it may be worth looking into framed print services that will print and fit your artwork for you, as it will most likely be cheaper than sourcing from different retailers.

Typically thinner, simpler designs will be more affordable – Ideal for anyone looking to enhance their modern contemporary interiors, the simpler designs will always be cheaper than something more ornate and substantial.

Go for a stained finish – As opposed to a painted frame. We find that, like for like, a stained frame is better value than their painted counterparts.

Look for sales – There’s always a deal going on somewhere, especially around the Christmas period. It may also be worth looking on company social media accounts for discount codes to cut down costs.

Recycle old frames or look for second-hand frames – There are tons of articles online on how to salvage an old picture frame and give them a new lease of life. We love seeing old frames getting reused, especially when people get crafty and find new uses for them!

Just replace the mount – If your frame is still in good condition, but your picture mount has become yellowed over time, consider just replacing the mount and not the frame. It’ll save you quite a bit and breathe some new life into your display. You can shop for made to measure mounts online.